Thursday, September 15, 2011

Humanizing Whales While Making Villains Out of Humans

During the last chapters of Moby Dick, Ishmael’s stance on whaling has seemed to change drastically from scientific to emotional. He begins to discuss whales in terms of different shapes, such as the sperm whale, which is more dignified and the right whale, which is more misshapen and less refined. In classifying them more on characteristics instead of scientific observations, the whale themselves take on more of a personality, thus becoming more a friend than a subject. Also in the chapter “Funeral”, the slaughter of the whales is depicted as an act of cruelty and a feeling of remorse and sadness is taken away from the chapter instead of a feeling that this practice is needed for advancement and civilization to continue. When Ishmael connects the blubber to skin, the ways become more human than mystery. In addition, considering it cannibalism to eat the whale meat gives the impression that whales should be seen as more than a resource, as a living being that deserves to live.
            Now, if the whales are being depicted as more human, having souls and such, what does that make the humans who hunt them, especially Stubbs and Ahab? Do they become the villains? When Stubbs makes a point of eating the whale he killed even though everyone else on the ship refuses to, he becomes the sharks that eat the whale carcass in a sense. He is nothing more than a predator, which by some of the crew is lesser and inferior, a savage. Also, if Moby Dick is somewhat human, Ahab’s obsession with killing him is an obsession with committing murder against another “human” and morally conscience men would consider that wrong. These beliefs can come together to make hunters, especially Ahab and Stubbs, the savages while the whales are the innocents.


  1. That's the question Melville (or Ishmael) wants us to ask, Kristen: who is the villain? The moral questions you're bringing up are those that we'll continue to ask in the rest of the book.

  2. I was actually going to write about this as well! But I like the other ideas you got out of it. It seems like Ishmael is torn between these ideas of what the whale actually is and if the logic (which he tries to justify with having a chapter about the importance of his chosen profession) out weighs the emotions that he is now has towards it.

    Chris Kiick (have to put my name because Im worried it wont when I do!)